Jeff Baker of The Orgeonian in Portland profiles Katie Arnoldi: "Katie Arnoldi really wanted to see a mountain lion. That's how one seed for her new novel Point Dume was planted.
Several of her friends in Malibu, Calif., had too-close encounters with the big cats, and Arnoldi -- who loves to hike off-trail in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks -- became obsessed with seeing a mountain lion. She would get up before dawn and head into the Santa Monica Mountains, hoping to catch up to a cougar on the prowl.
One morning, she ran into some scary-looking guys in full camouflage who glared at her and didn't say anything. The encounter was scarier than any wildlife sighting and made more sense as she got deeper into her research and learned about how illegal marijuana growing operations are everywhere, from the deep forests of Sequoia and Kings Canyon -- where Arnoldi befriended a Forest Service official and gained access to law enforcement operations that are trying to stop pot farming on public land -- to the hills above Malibu.
"It's everywhere," Arnoldi said last week during a visit to Portland. "There can be huge 100,000-acre sites way back in the woods or smaller ones that you can walk to from a parking lot."
Like much of the U.S., Oregon is overrun with outlaw pot growing operations, many of them controlled by Mexican drug cartels. The cartels often force illegal immigrants who don't speak English and don't know where they are to cultivate the plants and will threaten to kill their families if they leave. Arnoldi explored this end of the drug business in Point Dume and agrees that Americans who smoke pot don't think about the violence associated with it or the environmental devastation caused by all the illegal pot farming.
View full size"And the third thing I would add is all the toxins they use when they're cultivating it," she said. "Nobody talks about that. It's terrible."
Marijuana cultivation is only one element in Point Dume. Arnoldi grew up surfing at Malibu and now lives on a hilltop there with her husband, painter Charles Arnoldi. Surf culture has changed, and not for the better, and a theme of invasive species runs through her book. It is her third novel, after "Chemical Pink" and "The Wentworths," and she cheerfully recapped her life and writing career.
Arnoldi was dyslexic as a child but didn't know it and struggled to read. She married her husband, already a successful artist, when she was 23 and began writing short stories that were routinely rejected.
"I was so self-centered and narcissistic when I was in my 20s, and my work reflected it," she said. "When my daughter was born in 1990, I swore I'd never write another sentence. I began training as a bodybuilder and two years later I won the Southern California bodybuilding championship."
Arnoldi wouldn't take steroids, which limited her future as a bodybuilder, and she gave it up. She did some competitive surfing "longboarding, mostly, anything to distract myself." She wrote what became a chapter of Chemical Pink, her first successful piece of fiction and not coincidentally the first thing she wasn't in as a character. The novel was a success and was optioned as a movie, and she spent a couple of years writing the screenplay. She said her writing idols are Harry Crews and Joan Didion."